Local athletes represent the U.S. at the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games
By Amber McIver-Traywick
When two friends and Berthoud High School wrestlers became double amputees at the age of 17 in 2006 after they had stopped to change a tire and were struck by an SUV that pinned them between the two vehicles, the direction their lives would go hung in the balance. With passion, dogged determination, and a desire to keep the momentum of their lives moving forward, the two have become an inspiration to, not only the people of Berthoud, but to people around the world. Tyler Carron and Nikko Landeros will be representing the U.S. in Para Ice Hockey at the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, in the coming weeks and are hoping to bring home gold, yet again.
This will be Landeros’ third trip to the Paralympics and Carron’s second. Landeros, who is an alternate captain for the U.S. team this year, helped his team bring home the gold at the 2010 Vancouver games, and both men won gold medals during the 2014 games in Sochi.
Landeros has also been given the opportunity to represent the Paralympics through sponsorship by United Airlines. He and other para athletes are being featured in commercials and promotional billboards for the company. “They got in touch, they are super supportive of what I do.” As part of their support, the airline is flying Landeros’ parents, sister, and his girlfriend to South Korea to cheer him on.
Despite the spotlight on the athletes, both are also quick to point out they are individual components contributing to their team’s effort, but both want to represent their country well. Carron’s approach on his part is straight forward, “Just playing defense and make sure no one scores on us,” he said. “It’s a team sport; I’m just looking to do my part on the ice as a defenseman. Our motto is team first,” Landeros said during a phone interview from Chicago where the team has been preparing for the games.
Games and tournaments happen year-round through various para ice hockey organizations, with training camps taking place around the country. Both men are members of Colorado Sled Hockey which was formed in 1995 and joined with the Colorado Avalanche to become the first NHL-affiliated sled hockey team in the country.
The first Winter Paralympics were held in Sweden in 1976. Para hockey, which is also called sled or sledge hockey, debuted at the 1994 Winter Paralympics held in Lillehammer and continues to grow in popularity. The rules are the same for standard hockey, established by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), as they are for para hockey, with some modifications. Instead of skates the players use double-blade sledges that allow the puck to pass beneath the player. Two three-foot-long sticks are used that have a spike-end for pushing and a blade-end for shooting. Players must be able to push themselves as well as shoot and pass with both their right and left hand. With a flip of the wrist, players have the option to propel themselves forward, exceeding 30 mph, or play the puck, rocketing it across the ice. Game play is fast-paced and remarkably physical, with players using their shoulders like standard hockey players use their hips to take the brunt of a barrage of hits.
Speaking on the preparation leading up to PyeongChang, Landeros said, “…we’re on the ice an hour and a half a day, we’re in the gym two hours a day, we have a nutritionist letting us know what we can eat …it’s pretty intense, it’s a lot of work.” The level of athleticism players have to achieve to remain competitive is remarkable.
Through all of the hard work and long hours on the ice, Landeros and Carron both said the force behind their commitment is their love for the game. Carron said, “I love being with the boys and representing the best country in the world, also the adrenaline and physicality of the game.” Landeros echoed that by saying, “I love the comradery of being on a team, hockey is my favorite sport, hitting is also one of my favorite things – I’m a very physical player.”
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC), which is the governing body over the games, has stated their mission is to, “Enable para athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world,” and to, “touch the heart of all people for a more equitable society.” The games were designed to emphasize the participants’ athletic achievements and not their disability. Watching para hockey, the physicality and brute force both men spoke about, is a testament to those abilities.
“Spirit in Motion” is the motto for the Paralympic movement, and if anyone exemplifies the heart of the games it’s Carron and Landeros.
Team USA will take the ice on March 11 against Japan in the preliminary round. Winners of that game will play again on March 14. NBC will be covering the games on TV as well as through their NBC sports app. Games can also be watched by streaming live online at Paralympic.org.
If you are interested in learning more about para sports or finding a Paralympic club to join, visit teamusa.org/US-Paralympics/find-a-club.
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